Hertl shows Prague pride
Hertl shows Prague pride
Worlds return to young Czech star’s hometown
However, the Czech forward’s sophomore season with the San Jose Sharks hasn’t been that much fun. It’s taken him more than 60 games to approach the point totals he posted in 37 games last year (15-10-25) – a rookie campaign that was abbreviated due to a knee-on-knee hit he took from Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown. But there have been some glimmers of improvement recently, even if he still isn’t filling the net.
“The start of this season was not good,” Hertl told IIHF.com after a game this week. “Now I feel much better. Everything is much better. I’m getting more and more chances. I just keep shooting and hopefully it’ll start now because we need some goals.”
Hertl created big expectations for himself last year when he scored six goals in his first three games. But he’s still got a way to go before he can surpass the offence provided by former Olympians like Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Patrick Marleau.
Fundamentally, this Slavia Prague graduate approaches life with a positive attitude. And talking about the return of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship to his native Prague for the first time in 11 years definitely brings a smile to his face.
“The World Championship is so huge for the Czech Republic,” Hertl said. “In Prague, I think almost all the tickets are sold out already. It’s a big tournament for everybody. Hopefully our team gets some medals because Czechs love this championship. It will be a great time.”
The 188-cm, 95-kg attacker was a little guy – just 10 years old – in 2004 when the Czechs lost to the Americans in the quarter-finals and Canada won its second straight gold medal. He didn’t attend any of the games, staying home to watch on TV with his family.Continue reading
Yet if San Jose misses the playoffs for the first time since 2003 or gets knocked out early, Hertl – a third-liner for the Sharks – would likely be a candidate to suit up for national team coach Vladimir Ruzicka at home this year.
Still seeking his first IIHF medal, Hertl joined the Czechs at the last two Worlds in Stockholm (2013) and Minsk (2014). He scored an important power-play goal against the U.S. in last year’s 4-3 quarter-final win, as the Czechs went on to finish fourth.
He always welcomes the opportunity to play for Ruzicka. It’s not just because the 51-year-old is a certified legend who took part in the 1998 Olympic gold medal victory and coached the Czechs to their last two world titles (2005, 2010).
“I have played for Vladimir Ruzicka almost all my life, because he coached for my club, Slavia Prague,” Hertl said. “I like him and I think he’s a great coach. He really helped me with my career. He gave me a big chance from the start. I’m here now [in the NHL] because he helped me very, very much.”
It’s important for top-flight Czechs to represent their country when the chance presents itself, especially since they lack the depth of their early-millennium glory days, and Hertl recognizes that.
“Every year there are a little bit fewer Czech players in the NHL. I’ve talked to older guys, and years ago there were close to 80 players from the Czech Republic. Now there’s about 30. It’s a little bit tough, but I think we’re still pretty good as a hockey country.”
Hertl’s hero growing up was the most legendary Czech forward of all time, Jaromir Jagr. The huge right wing, who ranks fifth in all-time NHL scoring, was traded at the deadline from New Jersey to the Florida Panthers, and is still going strong.
“He’s 43 and it’s amazing he’s still playing,” Hertl said. “I’m only 21 and sometimes everything is sore on me. How will I feel in the next 10 years? Good for him. Hopefully he’ll stay as long as he wants.”
Jagr has become notorious for his late-night, post-game workouts. Would Hertl ever consider going down that road?
“That’s Jagr. I never go to the gym at midnight!” Hertl said with a laugh. “It’s the Jagr program. He made it for himself to make himself feel better.”
Whether Tomas Hertl is helping the Sharks to redeem themselves from last year’s catastrophic first-round loss to Los Angeles, or battling with the Czechs for their first medal since 2012 in his hometown, chances are he’s going to make his fans feel better too.
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